What is really happening in Tunisia? Start Magazine conversation with Michela Mercuri, professor of Culture, History and Society of Muslim Countries at the University of Padua.
What's going on in Tunisia?
Is Tunisia spiraling into an increasingly dangerous spiral of political authoritarianism and economic and financial crisis?
Here are the themes at the center of Start Magazine 's conversation with Michela Mercuri, professor of Culture, History and Society of Muslim Countries at the University of Padua.
Who is Kais Saied? And why is he called a populist president?
Saied presented himself in the elections as the irreproachable candidate, to whom nothing could be reproached for his past and also for his present. Above all, he was intent on unleashing an unparalleled fight against corruption. And therefore from this point of view he can certainly be defined as a populist. What then happened next, however, makes us change this image of Saied.
However, Saied swept the elections.
Yes, he won the ballot with about 72% of the votes, and therefore also of the female votes. During the electoral campaign he often repeated a phrase, "the people want and I know what they want", and this had made the population hope for a recovery of the country, both economically and also in terms of security, which however did not happen.
Meanwhile Saied has seized all the power.
Yes, Saied gradually took over all powers, also dissolving Parliament and arresting many opponents. However, this attitude could create a lot of friction within the country, between the fringes, for example, of the Muslim Brotherhood and the government itself, and trigger revolts that could be unleashed by more extremist groups, such as the Salafis, for example. So from this point of view we can say that Saied has shown himself in no way capable of living up to what he said during the electoral campaign and his mandate is increasingly fragile even from an economic point of view.
Is it correct to underline, as more than one does, that Tunisia is no longer a democracy?
Ever since the 2011 elections we have always said that Tunisia was the happy exception of the Arab Spring, because there had been regular elections and an alternation of secular and Islamist parties in government, and this had made us look at Tunisia with lenses perhaps a little watered down, in the sense that these elements are not enough to define a completely democratic country.
Indeed, Tunisia has many other problems.
Yes, for example it has exported more foreign fighters to Levantine theaters than the population of any other Islamic country. It is a country that suffers from endemic youth unemployment and a systemic financial crisis, and this even before Saied came to power, to the point that these factors contributed to the rise of Saied who had made a whole series of promises to resolve these crises.
And considering the most recent developments?
It is clear that at this moment, also given the arrest of many members of the opposition, the concept of democracy is faltering even more. Despite this, the international community is faced with a dilemma, whether to consider Saied as a stable interlocutor in any case, unlike what happens in Libya where there are no interlocutors, or not to support Saied and leave Tunisia to its fate.
How concrete is the risk of bankruptcy for a country that is laboriously negotiating a loan from the IMF?
The risk is very concrete, just think of the latest downgrading of Tunisia's rating by the Moody's agency. Precisely for this reason, the country is now judged to be a country at very high risk, even more so at this time when even the EU, which had promised to support Tunis both with its own funds and by pleading Tunisia's case with the IMF, precisely in recent days it has also decided to condition its funding to the IMF's yes to the granting of the loan requested by the government.
It seems that Tunisia is starting to join the BRICS. Is that so?
Saied is a very great chess player. He would like the money from the IMF and the EU without introducing the required reforms, among which the cut in subsidies stands out, which would further erode his internal consensus. And so Saied is now playing his game by saying, in simple terms, that if you don't give me the requested support, I'll go to what you consider your geopolitical opponent, which are the BRICS and in particular China .
Is Saied serious about the BRICS in your opinion?
Actually Saied could very well be bluffing, but this makes us understand how it is very important to maintain an open dialogue with him, because he is the only interlocutor we have at the moment in Tunisia. But there is another fundamental question on which we need to reflect and that is energy. In fact, let us remember that the Transmed or Enrico Mattei gas pipeline passes through Tunisia, a gas pipeline that starts from Algeria and brings the gas to Italy. So we Italians should take charge of the Tunisian question given that the EU instead seems to want to deviate from the line of cooperation that it had guaranteed in words.
Who is Rachid Ghannouchi and why did Saied imprison him?
Ghannouchi is the leader of Ennhada, a party with strong Islamist connotations that refers to the Muslim Brotherhood, which won the first post-Arab riots elections. However, Ghannouchi has never shown himself capable of reviving the country's fortunes. In his strategy of expelling every possible political opponent, Saied had many exponents of that party arrested and also personalities not formally affiliated with the party, citing the risk of the return of an Islamist danger, i.e. the return of the country to that stage in which we there have been various attacks in the country and above all the various leaders who have alternated in power have not been able to solve the country's problems.
Is there a risk of Islamism in Tunisia?
If by Islamist risk we mean the possible flashback of jihadist groups or more radical extremism, it is clear that the problem arises, especially if the country were to suddenly collapse. In fact, these groups, when they find a country in the grip of political, economic and social chaos, wedge themselves in and exploit the vacuum of power also to increase their trafficking, including for example in the field of migration.
This is a machine translation from Italian language of a post published on Start Magazine at the URL https://www.startmag.it/mondo/tunisia-come-si-muove-saied-fra-fmi-ue-e-brics/ on Mon, 01 May 2023 07:10:10 +0000.